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Peiyuan Wang, Frank J. Infurna and Sydney Y. Schaefer

Between-group comparisons of older and younger adults suggest that motor learning decreases with advancing age. However, such comparisons do not necessarily account for group differences in cognitive function, despite the co-occurrence of aging and cognitive decline. As such, cognitive differences may explain the observed age effects on motor learning. Recent work has shown that the extent to which a motor task is learned is related to visuospatial function in adults over age 65. The current study tested whether this relationship is replicable across a wider age range and with a brief, widely available cognitive test. Thirty-three adults (aged 39–89 years old) completed the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) prior to practicing a functional upper extremity motor task; performance on the motor task was assessed 24 hours later to quantify learning. Backward elimination stepwise linear regression identified which cognitive domains significantly predicted retention. Consistent with previous findings, only the Visuospatial/Executive subtest score predicted change in performance 24 hours later, even when accounting for participant age. Thus, the age-related declines in motor learning that have been reported previously may be explained in part by deficits in visuospatial function that can occur with advancing age.

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Sydney Y. Schaefer, Stacey L. DeJong, Kendra M. Cherry and Catherine E. Lang

This study investigated whether grip type and/or task goal influenced reaching and grasping performance in poststroke hemiparesis. Sixteen adults with poststroke hemiparesis and twelve healthy adults reached to and grasped a cylindrical object using one of two grip types (3-finger or palmar) to achieve one of two task goals (hold or lift). Performance of the stroke group was characteristic of hemiparetic limb movement during reach-to-grasp, with more curved handpaths and slower velocities compared with the control group. These effects were present regardless of grip type or task goal. Other measures of reaching (reach time and reach velocity at object contact) and grasping (peak thumb-index finger aperture during the reach and peak grip force during the grasp) were differentially affected by grip type, task goal, or both, despite the presence of hemiparesis, providing new evidence that changes in motor patterns after stroke may occur to compensate for stroke-related motor impairment.

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Heather Anne Hayes, Nikelle Hunsaker, Sydney Y. Schaefer, Barry Shultz, Thomas Schenkenberg, Lara A. Boyd, Andrea T. White, Kenneth B. Foreman, Philip Dyer, Rebecca Maletsky and Leland E. Dibble

Deficits in sequence-specific learning (SSL) may be a product of Parkinson’s disease (PD) but this deficit could also be related to dopamine replacement. The purpose of this study was to determine whether dopamine replacement affected acquisition and retention of a standing Continuous Tracking Task in individuals with PD. SSL (difference between random/repeated Root Mean Square Error across trials) was calculated over 2 days of practice and 1 day of retention for 4 groups; 10 healthy young (HY), 10 healthy elders, 10 individuals with PD on, 9 individuals with PD off their usual dosage of dopamine replacement. Improvements in acquisition were observed for all groups; however, only the HY demonstrated retention. Therefore, age appeared to have the largest effect on SSL with no significant effect of medication. Additional research is needed to understand the influence of factors such as practice amount, task difficulty, and dopamine replacement status on SSL deficits during postural tasks.